Democrats & Liberals Archives

Unleash the Hounds!

“I am gravely disappointed. Again you have made me unleash my dogs of war.”
-Lord Humungous, the Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla
From the film The Road Warrior

Attack politics. Sure, some people say that it’s any kind of disagreement. But that’s not necessarily the case. Attack politics, and negative campaigning are two different things. Let’s face something first: as long as people disagree on what’s right and get things wrong, negative campaigning will exist, whether it’s done by the candidates themselves, or by proxy.

Attack politics is an entirely different animal.

The Bush people have made attack politics the centerpiece of their relationship with the press and their opponents. If people aren't agreeing with them, or putting loyalty to them above all else, the Bush people are on the offensive, denying access, defaming their accusers, and making any criticism of Bush's policies seem motivated by corruption or weak-mindedness.

I write this, obviously, in light of recent developments concerning Richard Clarke.

They have not confronted him with direct, fact-based refutations. Instead, Bush administration is focused on painting Richard Clarke as untrustworthy and maliciously motivated. But the facts of his assertions remain unchallenged. Why is Bush doing things this way if he has the facts to neutralize Clarke's charges?

The best they've gotten is to have Clarke told by one of the committee members, a Republican, that he has a credibility problem. This is probably being touted by many on the talk radio circuit, but I wonder, is it just being presented as authoritative on its own, or are we given the facts and the contexts to properly make that assessment for ourselves?

It may be politically expedient to shut up Clarke, and discredit him in the eyes of the public, but if what he's saying is true, then it is an inappropriate and dishonest choice of brush to paint him with.

Currently the administration has been engaged in a big game of distraction. They've been zig-zagging from one rationalization to another, from Clarke's demotion, to his being out of the loop supposedly, to the attacks that scored on American targets by terrorists during the 90s, all to paint Clarke as a fool, a liar, or worse.

At some point, the credibility problem belongs to the administration. If they continue to simply deny reactively, even while evidence mounts, if they continue to attack and denigrate opponents whose stories check out better than theirs, the perception that builds in many people's minds, even those of their allies, will be one of an administration with something to hide, and not much to hide it with.

That, I think, is the perceptual battle Bush was never prepared to fight: the battle to neutralize, even convert the other side. It took 9/11 to make him a popular president. He didn't do it himself. As the the trauma of 9/11 became less painfully present, and Bush's response to it grew ever more divisive, the president lost the advantage he had been given by events beyond his control. I think he and his allies believe that spike in approval from him was natural, and that it's been undeservedly taken away from him.

They way he has lost it, though, relates to what people have seen and heard for themselves. It relates to a war made to answer an illusion, which but for the meddling of the Bush foreign policy team, could have been easily dispelled. It relates to a populace that never rose up like promised, and fighting that was fiercer than foretold. It relates to a budget and a deficit that have soared greatly, and an economy that has not, despite all promises to the contrary. Again and again, the administration has failed to live up to the image it projects for itself.

By making enemies of it's critics, unleashing the dogs of war on them, Bush has made his opposition much better motivated than they've been in quite a while, and also much less forgiving or receptive to his tactics. They've also become predictable in their opposition, denying any assertions that put the administration in a bad light. Unlike Clinton's people, who could be apologetic, Bush's seem intent on keeping up an appearance of infallibility. All that functions as blood in the water to the journalists who earn their living by exposing shocking, sensational truths.

Clarkes years of service and expertise make him difficult to debunk by means of simple scandal. By attacking his character but not answering his charges, the administration has only made itself more vulnerable to criticism, because the flat-out denials have failed to satisfy or neutralize the most damaging points of Clarke's book and public appearances, thereby confirming them. One can only hope in this PR war that the Bush Administration does not follow the more paranoid example of a recent administration, and cross the line of legality to confront their adversaries.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at March 25, 2004 11:53 AM